Friday, May 9, 2014

The Multiple Faces of Betsy and Hank

Dorothy and Toto by W. W. Denslow, 1900
Betsy by John R. Neill, 1914
L. Frank Baum’s characters of Betsy Bobbin and her mule Hank in The Tik-Tok Man of Oz are variations on Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto, who originally appeared in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Betsy from Oklahoma is simply Dorothy from Kansas with a new name and place of origin.

Hank by John R. Neill, 1914
Betsy’s genesis as Dorothy is most apparent in the storm at sea that starts Betsy on her way to Oz in Tik-Tok Man. Baum based this storm at sea on the one that sends Dorothy on her second Oz adventure in the book Ozma of Oz.

In the 1909 version of the stage script Betsy’s last name is Baker, but when the show reached the stage in 1913, she had attained her official last name of Bobbin—perhaps because she enters the story bobbin’ upon the waves.

It’s easy to see that Betsy is actually Dorothy in a different guise. But how in the world did Toto the dog become Hank the Mule? To understand the answer, you’ll need a little history.

Betsy and Hank, 1913
Soon after Baum’s first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was published in 1900, he set about turning it into a stage musical. The Wizard of Oz opened on Broadway in January 1903, directed by Julian Mitchell of later Follies fame, and produced by Fred Hamlin. The pantomime animal role of a cow was easier than that of a little black dog for an actor to play, so Toto was cut from the play and Imogene, Dorothy’s pet cow, was introduced. In the Broadway show Imogene accompanied Dorothy from Kansas to Oz. The cow’s antics of repeatedly trying to eat the Scarecrow’s straw evidently set the audience roaring with laughter.

Imogene, the Scarecrow, and Dorothy on Broadway, 1903
Ten years later in 1913 The Tik-Tok Man of Oz was one of Baum’s many attempts to repeat the success of the Broadway Wizard of Oz. The reviews of Tik-Tok Man in the Chicago newspapers in particular pointed out the glaring parallels between the two shows. Hank the Mule, as the pantomime animal role, was merely one more of those parallels.

So that’s how a dog became a mule. There was an intermediate step in between—a pet cow named Imogene.


  1. Is it just me, or did Hank's stage costume get re-used in the Oz Film Manufacturing Company's silent films?

  2. The costumes certainly look as if they're the same. The actor is. But I'd think that the costume from Tik-Tok Man would have worn out at some point. Immediately after Tik-Tok Man, Fred Woodward played Hank the Mule in a touring stage show that also featured Tik-Tok Man actors Morton and Moore as well as Dolly Castles. I'd be surprised if the costume could have lasted through a year of Tik-Tok Man, another show, and three movies. I figure they probably had to replace the mule costume every month or two.